Arabs reject racism compromise
DURBAN, South Africa -- Arab delegates have rejected a compromise draft on how the Middle East should be referred to in the U.N. racism conference's final declaration, the second such failure this week.
The European Union had asked South Africa on Tuesday to write a revised draft after the first one included wording that equated Zionism with racism.
That comparison sparked a walk-out by the United States and Israeli delegations from the week-long United Nation's World Conference Against Racism.
South Africa came up with a compromise draft declaration on the Mideast on Thursday that the EU said was "acceptable," but not ideal.
But delegates from Arab and Islamic countries said they could not endorse the document, which said the Holocaust should never be forgotten, in its present form, Reuters news agency reported.
Munir Akram, Pakistan's U.N. ambassador to Geneva and chairman of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference contact group at the conference, told Reuters: "The paper is far from our position. To be acceptable there would need to be changes."
Another delegate, who did not wish to be named, said the draft was "not commensurate with the gravity of the situation the Palestinians are facing."
EU officials had given a special drafting group chaired by South African Foreign Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma until Wednesday to devise a new proposal.
The group put forward a new proposed document that called for the recognition of the plight of the Palestinian people but stripped out language branding Israel as a racist state, Reuters news agency says.
The proposed draft said: "We are concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people under foreign occupation and we call for a just and comprehensive lasting peace in the region in which all people shall co-exist and enjoy equality, justice and internationally recognised human rights and security."
The document recognised the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, Reuters added.
European diplomats gave their cautious backing to the revised text that attempts to save the conference on the eve of its culmination.
EU spokesman Koen Vervaeke told Reuters: "No-one is fully happy but when you've seen the texts that circulated before it's real progress."
Another European diplomat said: "We're not happy with everything because it still singles out the Palestinian issue but it is acceptable.
"The reference to the Holocaust is very positive."
Arab leaders have said that a declaration that does not criticise Israel would be meaningless.
Salman el-Herfi, Palestinian ambassador to South Africa, told The Associated Press, the Arab countries would agree to withdraw the Mideast conflict form the declaration if there was a decision to remove all references to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust and if Western nations agreed to apologise for the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
Slavery, and the call for an apology and even reparations, has been the other key issue causing friction at the conference ending on Friday.
Norway, which had acted as broker earlier in the week and remains keen to save the conference, sent its deputy foreign minister Raymond Johansen, to Durban to take over leadership of its delegation.
He told AP: "The racism conference is in danger of completely breaking down. I am going to Durban to try to contribute to it reaching a result that does not damage the international battle against racism."
Belgian Justice Minister Marc Verwilghen said the EU had no current plans to leave the conference over the issue, despite reports that France was warning it would walk out of the conference if the final declaration singled out Israel.
U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who is chairing the conference, has already rejected the wording of a declaration adopted by a non-governmental organisation forum at the conference which depicts Israel as an apartheid state.
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